Sleeping dogs is a name that doesn’t conjure any particularly sensical imagery to mind at first. Doubtless if you’ve never heard of the game you may think of literal sleeping dogs. This is, as I’m glad of, not what the game is about. The name stems from the saying “Let sleeping dogs lie” which wonderfully comments on your actions throughout your adventure. The game starts out with the protagonist participating in a drug deal before the police rush in for a bust. After a short chase and getting arrested it’s revealed that you’re an undercover cop beginning to infiltrate the triad gangs to put a stop to their corruption in the city of Hong Kong. What you get is a game that feels a lot like GTA but with Kung Fu.
The open world is really quite small and in comparison to offerings such as Assassin’s Creed and GTA the world is very, very little. It’s relatively densely filled however so it’s not so bad. The Chinese architecture is fantastic to look at too and the way Hong Kong is built is interesting when reflecting on how most cities are constructed in the western world. There’s a stark contrast between them that isn’t often encountered in our society and this novelty fills the game’s world with charm. The environments whilst pleasing aesthetically are merely one piece of the puzzle that makes sleeping dogs so good.
The combat is obviously of paramount importance. There are guns which you’ll stumble across on occasion but they’re fairly rare and are much harder to use than in your regular FPS title. Some cool slow motion firing whilst vaulting over cover and driving makes them even more fun but whilst handy, you won’t tend to use them that much, though that’s a good thing. The main focus is of course the Kung Fu. It plays like the Arkham games or Assassins Creed. It takes a little practice to get the timing right but when you get there, it’s amazing. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a strong roundhouse kick to the face knocking a couple of enemies out, especially if you’ve just ran up a wall and performed it mid-air. Batman is cool and all and being an assassin is fun too but this is some Bruce Lee\Chuck Norris level shit right here. You can also use the environment to your advantage. Phone booths, speakers, fish tanks and more provide different ways to dispatch of foes most of which involve brutally slamming them into them. The game gives you a generous roster of moves to start with and you’ll unlock more and more as you go by collecting Zodiac Statues that are scattered across the city. The skill progression is actually something I really like. The three trees split into two paths giving you some choice in what you wish to unlock. Kung Fu mastery, Cop skills and Triad skills all rank up independently and you’re rewarded for your efforts depending on how you play. Cause rampant destruction during missions and you won’t fare well with your Cop score however taking out your enemies in a variety of ways will net you huge boosts to your Triad score. It’s a fairly balanced progression and with the clean interface in the game levelling and skills work a treat. One thing I will say is that it’s very easy to trash your Cop score if you’re not careful and to be honest sometimes even when you are. One thing you’re penalised for is damaging civilian cars, which does make sense, however the penalty still applies even when they crash into you.
The driving. The driving is well… It’s not great, although it’s not especially bad either. It’s very different to how vehicles are handled in GTA and in fact most other games I think I’ve played. They stick to the floor like they’re nailed down so you can slide round corners at top speed totally fine, so long as you hold down the handbrake, otherwise it handles like a boat and leaves you careering off the road and into passers-by. It’s super arcade-y type driving, no realism to be found here. You’ll get the hang of it but the problem is it’s often a bit temperamental. Slam a bike into a wall at top speed and you’ll likely be okay. You’ll stay on the bike and live to see another day. Tap a car going at half speed or under and you’ll see yourself careering off of it faster than you can yell “This is bullshit.” This I can deal with for most of the game however there are races, some of which are for bikes and when coming off of the bike the race immediately ends. No chance to get back on the bike, no respawn at a checkpoint. You have to start the whole race again. Well don’t fall off then you say? Drive more carefully? I would but for the sake of making gameplay difficult the AI has that annoying catch up feature so that you always have to keep on your toes and constantly drive as fast as you can. All of these things combined can make for a very frustrating experience however it would be okay just if the offending races weren’t so bloody long. A few minutes of hair raising precision and tense ducking and weaving I can do, however when the game pits you against 10 or more adversaries who can and will stay on your heels fairly well no matter how hard you push the bike, makes you suffer through with the annoying controls and still forces you to keep your composure flawless after travelling for around 10 minutes due to mistakes being generally fatal then it loses it’s fun and its flaws become decidedly more pronounced. Suffice it to say I gave up with the races in question. That’s probably my only big gripe with the game however.
The graphics look pretty good most of the time and when they don’t the atmosphere that the game projects is enough to overlook any blurry textures or blocky models. All the way through you really feel like you’re in Hong Kong. From the snippets of Cantonese spoken by the games characters to the food vendors selling Pork Buns and Noodle Soup. In a genre of games largely dominated by Rockstar, Sleeping Dogs has a well deserved spot among the great among open world crime games. It’s seriously worth playing even just to see some awesome Kung Fu. Whilst driving is a pretty big feature of the game and it’s not as refined as more established titles it does still hold up as a really good play. The other aspects of the game, mainly the combat, make this something to not miss. Pick it up on Steam, if you have a decent PC, for the best experience or grab it for the PS4 or Xbox One to get the Definitive Edition with all the DLC. If you have an Xbox 360 or a PS3 then you can grab a copy for them too. It’s well worth it.